On being a …

Friday and I haven’t fulfilled my commitment to write up my blog this week. I made some notes through the week and had some ideas. Now, most of those ideas seem weak and not worth the effort.

I thought about when I was mugged. I decided that it brought back too many uncomfortable memories so I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about being a dotty old woman (which I undoubtably am) but my stories of thinking of something new to do everyday – one of which included getting out of bed head first (and nearly knocking myself out) may be true but may not be credible. So, I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about earning a doctorate. That is plain boring. Ditched.

Then I thought of an amazingly wonderful trek I did in Zimbabwe some 20 years ago. Yes! Bingo! That would work, but I’m not going to do that because I can’t find the photos. It was New Year 1996/1997 and I was in the Honde Valley with my brother and sister-in-law. I will write about this, but not this week.

Watch this space

 

On being a …

Once upon a time?

In Australia my dreams are of Africa.

[In Africa there is no need to dream? Or, no need to remember dreams? Is Australia the place of dreaming? Does Australia cease to exist when I’m in Africa?]

Once upon a time I presented a paper at a conference in Wollongong, NSW. This was not the first conference I had spoken at but it was where, for the first time, I was admired for my writing. The paper, Christmas at the Big House,  was subtitled ‘intersecting the insider and outsider roles in the fieldwork process.’ Why anthropology and ethnography papers have such long and convoluted titles is a mystery. Nevertheless, at that stage of my life, that is what I did. I even quoted Foucault in the introduction.

I returned ‘home’ to Zimbabwe in 1996 to research for Honours, so being both the insider and the outsider were conflicting roles. The Christmas mentioned in the title was a celebration of the reunion of my siblings. I was the only one without my immediate family at the party. It was held at the Big House.

The Big House, on a tobacco farm in Zimbabwe, is where I was born and brought up. It is a big house, built around a lawned courtyard, colourful with bougainvillea and flowering vines. There are verandahs, arches, and many big rooms. The gardens are bright with poinsettias and jacaranda trees. Once upon a time the house seemed to be alive and strong. Now, when I visit in 1996, I find the termites have eaten away the parquet floors. The wild bees have swarmed in the chimneys and the ceiling space. Honey drips through the ceilings leaving honey puddles in the sun-room. The electric wiring, never dependable, is completely unreliable, not helped by the intermittent blackouts and power outages.

For many of the past decades the house had not been permanently occupied. Because it is isolated, and usually empty, the night-watchman had taken the opportunity  to remove much of the furniture. In the more recent past, since the family left Zimbabwe, the Big House is now home to three or four Zimbabwean families. I think to myself, “at least it is being lived in.”

I quote, verbatim, from the essay

My knowledge of the family is sensitive. I am fluent in the language. The cultural world of this family is familiar to me as insider (how easily I slipped back into that identity) alien to me as outsider (how difficult to be part of the scheming and plotting). Intersecting the roles of insider/outsider allows me to acknowledge my limits – and that my analysis is imperfect and it is incomplete

I have to be honest, this was not the best Christmas I’ve ever had! However, when the time came to say goodbye, everyone was very emotional. There was much kissing and hugging. I left with my brother and his family because I am staying out on their farm now, and going to Aberfoyle (on the Mozambique border) with them for New Year.

During question time after I presented the paper, which discusses the feelings of identity, belonging, remembering, and misunderstanding, one of the audience paid me the supreme compliment of likening my writing to that of Michael Ondaatje.

 

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time?

Focus versus Lackadaisical

Focus

The genesis for this blog entry comes from Facebook where a friend published this meme:

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So, I did that and found the following on page 117 of Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring. At first, I was wondering how this was going to ‘be my life’ in 2017. Read on …

 

“I have even picked her up and carried her away from the window, but her gaze never leaves the bird, and as soon as I release her, she’s back in the window, focused, taunting the object of her intention.”

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According to Laraine Herring, it is becoming more and more difficult for us to “… cultivate the mental discipline necessary to deepen our lives”. Having made the commitment to write in this blog once a week, I’m finding the truth in her words. She says we have to make a conscious effort to withdraw from the constant assault on our senses. The mind needs to be trained to focus. It is too easy for me to be lackadaisical, filling my day with inconsequential activities (Facebook, I’m looking at you) and generally lacking vitality and purpose. I find it too easy to blame the weather – it’s too hot, too windy, too cold and so forth. My latest excuse for not swimming at the beach is that there is too much weed and the ocean is too choppy and too murky. Actually there is a lot of weed, there are mountains of weed and it is not pleasant to step through it and then stub my toe on a rock.

However, morning asana practice is not not negotiable and neither is the gym, two or three days a week; yoga class on Thursday evenings is a priority. It seems that sitting down to write something brings out the lackadaisical in me. Part of the commitment I made at the Writing and Yoga Retreat at New Norcia last year was to begin and complete a short story. I’m sort of planning that now but … there’s always a but … when I start writing something it just seems so banal, so mundane.

Lackadaisical

/ˌlækəˈdeɪzɪkəl/
adjective

1.

lacking vitality and purpose
2.

lazy or idle, esp in a dreamy way
Derived Forms
lackadaisically, adverb
lackadaisicalness, noun
Word Origin

lackadaisical. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 12, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lackadaisical

I find it so much easier to be lackadaisical and loll around dreaming and reading. Sometimes, a burst of energy and I water the garden.
Focus versus Lackadaisical

Bees and me

Looking back at life on the farm, I am struck by how little I remember. What I do remember is the house, known to most people as ‘The Big House’. I had my own special room in the Big House, a bee-proof room. It seems my allergy to beestings started very early in the piece. African honeybees, (Apis mellifera scutellata) are extreme bees; they attack, and once one bee has stung the rest of the swarm come in like kamikazes. There is a particular scent that swarming and stinging bees have. I don’t know if everyone can smell it but I certainly can. According to my research, it is an alarm pheromone that smells “a bit like banana”. I think that is stretching it!

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I can remember the terrifying sound when the bees swarmed. If you saw a swarm coming in, it was like a thick cloud, like a taste of Armageddon. Should two or more swarms choose the same place to hive, a fierce battle would ensue. Anything or anybody who was in the area was in danger. I can remember one year all my mum’s hens were stung to death. Another year, my niece’s budgies, all gone. The farm dogs too.

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African honey bee. Photograph by W.H Kern, University of Florida

In the Big House only one room was more-or-less bee-proof. This was the blackboard room, which opened on to the interior courtyard on one side and into a passage on the other, so two doors. There was one gauzed window. As soon as we heard the sound of swarming bees I would be hustled into the blackboard room and all the doors and windows closed. If my younger sister was at home, she came in too. While we were confined, would draw on the blackboard with coloured chalks or play dress-ups in mum’s silk wedding gown and dad’s black graduation gown. If a stray bee managed to find it’s way into the room it was squashed, and that’s where you could smell the bee smell. This was probably not a good idea as the smell enraged other bees, which might try and get in. It is important to know how to remove a beesting without pressing the poison sac. Scraping it off with a sharp knife is the best solution and then apply bicarb of soda. Trust me, I know.

After the all clear and most of the random bees had been cleared we would be released. The bees would swarm in the chimneys and in the ceiling space. As time went on, the bees that swarmed in the ceiling space above the sun-room made plenty of honey. The honey would drip through the ceiling and make a honey puddle on the concrete floor.

I’m sad that I’m allergic to beestings because bees are one of my favourite insects. Having to carry an Epipen® is a pain in the bum. Sometimes I think it is a waste of time. I don’t have a clue how to use it and it sits in a drawer in its original wrapping. I know what anaphylaxis feels like because beestings are not my only allergy. I’ve come round from anaphylaxis with needles stuck into me after taking antimalarial tablets and any medication with sulphates.

This blog started life as part of a writing marathon at New Norcia. It was the 20minute entry. My thanks to Liana Christensen and the members in the group for their encouragement and motivation.

Bees and me

A Non-Writer, Writing

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Through all the years that I believed I was a writer, I struggled to put words on paper. In my more senior years it is apparent that I am not a writer. I am a tiny potato and I realise that I cannot ‘do the thing’. I do not have the determination or the drive a writer needs. Small bloggy pieces are about my limit.

Many years ago, I believed I was an artist but it turns out that was misguided thinking, too. There are many things I can do but drawing, painting and writing are not among them. I have a minor talent but it is not enough. The many nudes I drew and painted at Art School were destroyed (burnt) by an over-zealous family member for reasons I’ve never fathomed. I am easily disillusioned, defeated even, and take such physical criticism to mean that my work is worthless. I’m very good at giving up – cease making an effort; admitting defeat!

What I would like to be able to do is to sing in tune.

A Non-Writer, Writing

getting into practice for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo begins in a couple of weeks and all my good intentions of practicing writing every day have come to nought.

Some thoughts that are in my mind at present:
Why does the time go so quickly as I’ve got older? It really races by and I get quite muddled as to what day it is.
Why is it now a risk to ride my bike? I wobble around all over the shop and then get scared I’m going to fall off. This is not helped by knowing that if I do fall off I’m likely to break a bone or two due to osteoporosis.
I realise that nothing is certain; I am only as old as the breath I am taking so the thought about riding my bike is fairly useless.

Is the cold weather really colder and the hot weather really hotter or is my thermostat giving up the spoek?
How come the only doco I can watch on TV (without falling asleep) is Time Team?
If I have time to sit and fiddle around on Facebook, how come I don’t have time to polish my shoes?

Is it a good idea to take my grand daughters to England in a couple of years for my aunt’s 100th Birthday? I’d like the girls to have a sense of their history and this may be a good opportunity. I have no doubt that my aunt (my grand daughters great, great aunt) will make her century. She is a very determined woman.

Why does half a cup of lemon juice improve the taste of red lentil soup?

If blogger.com offers me various fonts, why won’t the one I choose apply? I was interested to read the text of Steve Jobs commencement address at Stanford University (June 12, 2005). Apple have always had a brilliant selection of fonts and now I know why. If you are interested, you can read about it if you follow the link. I’ve always had Macs and only one dud in all the years. The dud machine is still sitting on the floor of my study (the screen displayed vertical lines that eventually took over the whole screen and crashed the whole thing).

Why does the LBD insist on eating cat poo, goanna poo and/or ibis poo at every opportunity and why does it cost an arm & a leg to get her guts sorted out at the vet. She must be almost immune to the medicine by now – and she’s learned to spit it out all over me. Look at her, butter wouldn’t melt …

OK, so what is my 50,000-words book about? I have plans but am still not sure if the plans equal a plot and if they do, has it got legs. Maybe I’ll just have to wing it on what little I do have. Last year I already had a story in my head, one that I had been wanting to write for years and years. In the event I didn’t manage to finish in the allotted time although I got up to approx. 38,000 words. That novel is now languishing in my computer somewhere.

50,000 words in 30 days – that means 1,666 words every day. November is the last month that I can work comfortably in the garden. The weather isn’t too hot and the flies and mosquitos are starting but are not too horrendous. This is my conflict and I have a feeling that the garden will come out the winner – unless the flies and mozzies intervene! Writing at night is not an option for me. Early evening maybe but not burning the midnight oil.

If I can possibly bring myself to write in this blog each day until the end of October I’ll feel far more confident about finishing the November novel. At least I know nobody has to read this so if it is as boring as batshit, so be it.

getting into practice for NaNoWriMo

Writing a novel in 30 days!

November 2010 is done and dusted and of course that signals the end of 2010. This has been a fruitful month for me, thanks to a friend of mine (you know who you are) who encouraged me to enter the National November Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. The point of the exercise is to complete 50,000 words towards a novel in the 30 days of November. For some writers that IS a novel. For me, well I got as far as 33,000 odd and then … suddenly … it was 30 November and I was nowhere near the end of my story.

The process: I have had a book (historical fiction) in my mind for a long time; I’ve written the first paragraph countless times, but only in my head. I could not let this opportunity to give it breath pass me by. I return to my notions of history and life as a tapestry – the picture on the front and the knots, tangles and loops at the back – holding it all together. The little things that make us who we are. The interlocking threads that appear and disappear, sometimes for good. In my mind I see the Fates weaving and cutting the threads without warning. I find it so magical that I can work with these amazing ideas for pleasure!

I began a week late because we were away on holiday but I did make some notes in longhand – which, in the event, I didn’t use. However, once we got home and I got started in earnest the words began to flow; the characters made themselves known to me and it felt wonderful! Some of the characters I had thought of but others put on a surprise appearance. Sitting at my computer each day letting the process take its course is entirely different to writing a thesis or dissertation. For example, my doctoral thesis took nigh on seven years before I submitted it! This time my significant other and the LBD (little black dog) did not have to beg for my attention and sandwiches were not the staple food in the home.

Procrastination and writer’s block have not been the problems I thought they might be. The most time consuming part of the exercise has been research. With my academic background I admit to being a stickler for accuracy. I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed up until there is a completely inaccurate statement. One of these is in The Poisonwood Bible (although I still think it is one of my favourite books) where Barbara Kingsolver misplaces Johannesburg from the hinterland to the coast. I think that is poor research and poor editing. For me, sometimes I could not proceed until I had the facts right. Imagine if I wrote about the Boer Wars and erred about the dates (there were two wars, which one did I mean?). I had to check, was the Suez Canal open in 1875? When were the slaves in South Africa freed from bondage? Which ports in Australia and New Zealand were deep enough to take a large Clipper ship? How far south did the ships sail? All of these and more! I love the research but it is also important not to make the story too … academic. Honing my writing skills in this way has been brilliant for me, it has liberated my style hugely.

50,000 words does not sound like much and I know that it will not be the complete novel; my characters would like more of their stories told.

Keeping a file of the bits and pieces that I have edited out (naughty to edit when writing under pressure but never mind) means more treasures for my long drawer.

If the book should see the light of day I’ll let you know but there is a lot of work still to be done.

Writing a novel in 30 days!